How Long to Cook a Turkey
Having Thanksgiving dinner right on time is easy when you know how long to cook a turkey.
Thanksgiving can be a multi-day cooking marathon. All the planning often centers around the main event—that giant, glistening turkey. Once you decide where to buy it from, we’ll help you figure out what size turkey to buy and how long it needs to roast so you can plan your perfect holiday.
Learn how to cook a turkey with help from our Test Kitchen.
How Long to Roast a Turkey?
Use this chart to figure out how long to cook a turkey (unstuffed) in a 325°F oven, according to its size.
Editor’s Tip: Note that if you have stuffed your turkey, the stuffing inside must reach a safe temperature of 165°. This might result in the breast and thighs of your turkey reaching 180° to 185°—a sign that you might be eating a pretty dry bird for dinner.
|4-6 lb. breast||1 hr 30 mins–2 hrs 15 mins||165°F|
|6-8 lb. breast||2 hrs 15 mins–3 hrs 15 mins||165°F|
|8-12 lbs.||2 hrs 45 mins–3 hrs||170-175°F|
|12-14 lbs.||3 hrs–3 hrs 45 mins||170-175°F|
|14-18 lbs.||3 hrs 45 mins–4 hrs 15 mins||170-175°F|
|18-20 lbs.||4 hrs 15 mins–4 hrs 30 mins||170-175°F|
|20-24 lbs.||4 hrs 30 mins–5 hrs||170-175°F|
Simple Steps for How to Cook a Turkey
Before you nail down your Thanksgiving game plan, don’t forget to factor in these time-consuming steps.
- Defrost: Thawing a turkey can take anywhere from three to five days. So if you’ve bought a frozen turkey, be sure it is placed in the refrigerator with plenty of time to thaw.
- Preheat the oven: Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to allow your oven to thoroughly preheat. Since many home ovens heat unevenly, it’s a good idea to let your oven come up to temperature, then wait 5 to 10 more minutes before placing the turkey inside. This allows the heat to evenly disperse in the oven before you open the door. It is also a good idea to rotate your turkey at least every hour to help everything cook evenly.
- Season the turkey: The day before Thanksgiving, remove the bird from its packaging and take out the giblets. Then, massage kosher salt all over the turkey. Return the bird to the fridge until it’s ready to roast on the big day. This technique not only seasons the meat, it also helps to draw out excess moisture from the skin that, once baked, will be nice and crispy.
- Don’t baste: Basting requires you to open the oven door, which lets heat out and cools the surface of your bird. Every time you baste, you’re increasing the overall cooking time of your turkey. And more time in the oven leads to dry, tough meat.
- Don’t stuff: Our Taste of Home Test Kitchen recommends that you don’t stuff your turkey. The main reason is due to food safety. Cooking stuffing in the cavity of your turkey means there is more of a risk of getting foodborne illnesses like salmonella or E. coli. This exposure to bacteria can happen if the stuffing has not reached a safe temperature of 165°—something that’s hard to do without overcooking the turkey.
- Rest: Finally, allow the turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes before you carve it. Resting lets the meat cool slightly and reabsorb juices that were bubbling to the surface in the hot oven. This reabsorption is what gives you plump, tender meat. If you carve the turkey right away, you lose all that tenderness in a puddle on your cutting board or plate!
Want to make the best gravy? Learn how to make gravy from pan drippings.
How Long to Cook a Turkey per Pound
The general rule is 15 to 20 minutes per pound of turkey when cooking an unstuffed turkey. If family tradition calls for roasting a stuffed turkey, though, try cooking it according to the chart above based on its size. Once your thermometer reads 165° in the breast or 175° in the thigh, take the temperature of the stuffing. If it doesn’t reach 165°, rather than drying out your turkey by cooking it longer, try scooping out the stuffing and microwaving it until it reaches the appropriate temperature.
If you opt to cook an unstuffed turkey, don’t worry, you can bake one of these crowd-pleasing stuffing recipes in a separate dish that will be just as tasty (and safe to eat!).
What Temperature to Cook a Turkey
Our Test Kitchen recommends roasting a turkey at a steady 325º for the entire cook time. This temperature is low enough that you don’t need to worry about moisture evaporating quickly and drying out the turkey, but it’s also warm enough to cook the bird all the way through at a quick pace. Before the big day, be sure to check if your oven is working properly.
How to Check the Temperature of a Turkey
To find out if your turkey is fully cooked, insert a meat thermometer into the meatiest, thickest part of the bird (typically the thighs). You’re aiming for 170º to 175º for a whole bird and 165º for a turkey breast.
When taking the temperature, make sure that the thermometer doesn’t touch any bone, as this can give a false high reading and leave you with undercooked (read: unsafe) meat. And, if the meat isn’t to temperature, make sure you wash the probe of the thermometer in hot, soapy water before testing the turkey again.
Test Kitchen Tip: In the market for a meat thermometer? Our Test Kitchen recommends the top-of-the-line Thermapen Mk4 thermometer for its accuracy and easy-to-read display. We also like the colorful ThermoPop. Whatever you do, don’t rely on your turkey’s pop-up timer. Many times they pop too late—if they even pop at all—leading to a dry, overcooked bird.
What Size Turkey to Buy
People hosting their first Thanksgiving often wonder how much turkey per person? You’ll need one pound of turkey per guest. When you can’t find the magical 12 pound turkey for 12 guests, just round up! It’s better to have too much food than to run short on the signature dish of Thanksgiving.
If you’re serving a hungry bunch or you really want to eat leftover turkey for the rest of the week, you can round up to one and a quarter pounds of turkey per person. Then you can make our favorite leftover turkey recipes.